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Just like buying an extra ball of yarn, swatching can feel stupid or a waste of time and resources. Why bother, when we just want to get knitting, right? Wrong.
If you’ve knit a few sweaters that don’t fit, you know why you should swatch.
But what is a swatch anyway? A swatch is a knitted sample worked in a given pattern or stitch to test the gauge and other fabric characteristics.
How to knit a swatch then?
Will be using the Champagne Cardigan as an example here.
Cast on the number of stitches stated in the pattern. E.g. 18 sts / 10 cm / 4 inch with the suggested needle size, in this case 4.5. Cast on 5 extra stitches on each side, that is a total of 28 stitches.
Knit 10 rows of garter stitch(5 ridges). Keep knitting 5 stitches on both sides of the swatch in garter stitch and knit stockinette in the middle. Knit at least 10 cm/ 4 inch long swatch, ending with 10 rows(5 ridges) of garter stitch. Cast off.
If you don’t knit the borders in garter stitch, your swatch will curl up in stockinette and it might be tricky to measure it properly, but it’s up to you really.
If the pattern is knitted in the round, knit the swatch in the round as well. Why? With some people like me, purl stitches are not the same size as knit stitches. That means my gauge would be off if I’d knit a swatch flat and the actual sweater in the round. In some cases knitting small circumferences(like sleeves) in the round also changes the gauge, you might knit at a tighter gauge, so you might want to go up a needle size.
Wash your swatch and let it dry flat. You can use knit blockers or normal pins to shape the swatch. Let it dry.
Measure your swatch, both the stitch count and the row count. If you are lucky, you’ll get a gauge in both. Pop open a Champagne bottle, you lucky…
If you are like most people, you won't get gauge in either, but don’t be too devastated. Here is what to do:
If you have too many stitches per 10 cm, go up a needle size. Too few? Go down a needle size. Knit another swatch the same way as before with these needles.
Dry and measure the swatch again. If your stitch gauge is correct, celebrate even when your row gauge is still off! Why? Because it’s easier to adjust for row count discrepancies. Either you knit more rows or less, again depending on what the swatch tells you. This of course is doable in stockinette and garter stitch patterns. If a pattern has intricate cables or lace, the look of the knitted garment will differ from the original if the row gauge is off. But that will be addressed in another post.
If you still didn’t get gauge, you have three options. Abandon ship aka knitting and select another project, try knitting a swatch with different needle types* or repeat the above with smaller or larger needles again or calculate everything in the pattern to your gauge. (That means you have to rewrite the pattern, so maybe option one is a good choice.)
*A small note on needles. We suggest you try different needle materials when swatching, you might not get the correct gauge with metallic needles, but bamboo or other wood might just do the trick. Keep in mind that you should always knit the actual garment with the same needles you used for swatching.
Other things the swatch will tell you besides gauge:
If you actually get gauge with a given needle, does it look right? Sometimes you might not like how the swatch turns out, maybe it’s too see through for your liking.
Is this the right yarn for this project. How did it feel knitting it? Too coarse or smooth or just right? We suggest you carry the swatch around in your bag for a few days, although we do understand that you are dying to start. Take it out once in a while and see how it behaves, has it wrinkled, does it still feel gorgeous?
How did the yarn react to washing and blocking?
How is the stitch definition, do you like how this yarn looks when knitted up in the given pattern?
If it’s a handdyed yarn you are using, how does the swatch look? Does it pool strangely?
We strongly encourage you to start swatching, it is actually fun and believe it or not, it saves a lot of time and tears! After all, knitting should be fun!
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